Posted on December 21, 2016, by Travis Pulver

With two weeks to go, the interest in many games is going to shift. There will no longer be a bevy of fans clamoring to watch whatever game happens to be on television. Diehard fans of the game will, of course, watch anything. Otherwise, you will have fans tuning in to see their favorite team fight for a playoff spot or to see how their fantasy team players are doing (championship week!!!).

There will also be those watching because they have a little money on the line or because they don’t want to talk to their father-in-law or help their significant other clean up the kitchen. Whatever the reason they have for watching, most will do one thing—figure out who they think will win.

Via @witfnews

Via @witfnews

For those that want a challenge, they’ll try to do it against the spread.

New York Giants (-3) vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Thursday, December 22 at 8:25 PM

This could be a very interesting game. The Giants have to win to keep pace with the Cowboys, but the Eagles would love to give the fans something to look forward to by showing some progress. The Philly offense did not look great against a very tough Ravens squad last week, but they kept the game close enough that rookie quarterback Carson Wentz was almost able to mount a fourth quarter comeback.

New York’s defense has been stellar in recent weeks, but the offense is terrible. They have no running game, and don’t have much in the passing game other than Odell Beckham Jr. Philadelphia’s defense is not bad. With a little pressure on Manning, they could force him to make a couple of key mistakes.

The Giants won earlier this season in a game that saw Manning throw four touchdown passes, but two of the drives were set up by Carson Wentz interceptions. If the defense can give Wentz some help, the Eagles could very well pull off the upset.

But Wentz has eight interceptions in his last five games making it too easy to see him making the mistakes and Manning capitalizing on them (and covering the spread).

Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills (-3.5), Saturday, December 24 at 1 PM

All eyes are going to be on Matt Moore this week. They are going to want to know if last week’s four-touchdown game was more a product of the Jets terrible defense or him. If it’s the defense, the Bills (16th) are only ranked one step above the Jets (17th), so maybe he could do it again?

Miami is currently the No. 6 seed in the AFC and in control of their own destiny—win and they’re in. But let’s be real—they are not going to beat New England next week making this week a must-win (9-7 will probably not be good enough this year, but 10-6 could be). So—they have to win this week.

But can they?

It would make Moore’s day a little easier if Jay Ajayi could have a good game (it’s been awhile). It’s entirely possible against Buffalo’s 27th ranked run defense. But the problem may be stopping Buffalo’s run game with their 30th ranked run defense.

Buffalo is probably the better team, but it is amazing what playing for a spot in the playoffs for the first time in years can do for a team. Don’t be shocked if the Dolphins figure out how to tame the Bills and walk away with a much-needed win.

New York Jets vs. New England Patriots (-15.5), Saturday, December 24 at 1 PM

Via @jets_fan_steve

Via @jets_fan_steve

There isn’t much of a question here as to who will win. There is no way the current version of the New York Jets provides the Patriots with much of a game. Yes, they did earlier this season, but the Patriots are clicking despite the injuries they are dealing with. Tom Brady is on a mission and will not let anyone get in his way.

But—will the Patriots cover one of the largest spreads placed on a game in a few years?

It’s always hard to say with the Patriots and large point spreads. But Bryce Petty hasn’t shown anything that the Patriots defense should be concerned about. Brady will want to have a better game after the tough one he had against Denver.

So—yes, the Patriots will cover the spread.

Tennessee Titans (-4) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, Saturday, December 24 at 1 PM

It’s a little surprising to see the Titans only favored by four. The offense has been playing well for weeks, especially the running game. Tennessee has been doing a good job of working DeMarco Murray and Derek Henry into the game plan. Marcos Mariota hasn’t been slinging the ball all over the place for a few weeks, but he hasn’t needed to.

Jacksonville lost their head coach Sunday after another dismal performance against the Houston Texans. The defense looked pretty good overall, but the offense was pathetic—and likely will be this week as well.

The Jaguars will need to force the Titans into making some mistakes to win, but probably will not be able to do it. Tennessee wants to have the chance to play Houston for the AFC South title in Week 17 and will not let the Jaguars mess that up.

Expect the Titans to pound Henry and Murray into the Jaguars all day long and carry the Titans to a 10 point win.

Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers (-7), Saturday, December 24 at 1 PM

The loss to Indianapolis put a few nails in the coffin of Minnesota’s playoff hopes, but at 7-7 they are not out of it—yet. Green Bay is a little closer to making it in at 8-6, and are playing much better football now than when they played the Vikings in Week Two.

Back then, the Packers didn’t have a running game. However, they appear to have found one in wide receiver-turned-running back Tim Montgomery. With how the Vikings defense let Frank Gore run wild over them last week, it is not hard to imagine Montgomery having a good day.

Tack on the desire Aaron Rodgers has to get his team back to the playoffs despite their early season struggles, and you have the recipe for a big Green Bay win. Expect the Packers to treat the Vikings a lot like the Colts did—but worse (and easily cover the spread).

San Diego Chargers (-6.5) vs. Cleveland Browns, Saturday, December 24 at 1 PM

Via @SInow

Via @SInow

The San Diego Chargers should win this game by more than a touchdown. There is nothing about the Cleveland Browns that says they can take down the Chargers—but this might be the final chance the Browns have to win one this season. Not because of anything they may do on Sunday, but because of what the Chargers will not do.

Play—because the only motivation these guys have now is their respective paychecks. Yes, those checks are pretty nice and should be great motivation, but no matter how they play, they’ll still get them.

But it now looks like they are going to be moving to Los Angeles. Head coach Mike McCoy will likely be fired any day now. All the uncertainty over the stadium and a potential move has been wearing on the players—as has the losing.

With all the drama away from the field making the future look cloudy and the injuries, Phillip Rivers will once again have a hard time getting the offense going.  That could open the door enough for the Browns to get that elusive first win of the season.

If the Chargers win, there is no way they cover the spread.

Washington Redskins (-3.5) vs. Chicago Bears, Saturday, December 24 at 1 PM

The Redskins had a shot to control their own destiny, but couldn’t get the job done against the Carolina Panthers Monday night. Much like the rest of the season, the offense relied completely on Kirk Cousins and couldn’t mount any sort of running game. The defense was good, but not good enough against a Panthers offense that was clicking.

However, against the Bears, what they had on offense and defense Monday night will probably be enough. Cousins might even get some help from the running game. If Rob Kelley can’t get moving against a run defense that gave up 226 yards last week—162 of which were gained by a former wide receiver—he doesn’t deserve his roster spot.

Cousins can and will light up the Bears defense. But Matt Barkley has found a way to make it interesting (1-3 as a starter with each loss coming by less than a touchdown)—but Cousins wants to cement his role (and value of his pending long-term contract) with another big win (Redskins cover the spread).

Atlanta Falcons (-1.5) vs. Carolina Panthers, Saturday, December 24 at 1 PM

Via @ESPNONNFL

Via @ESPNONNFL

Carolina proved something Monday night that should concern Atlanta fans. The Panthers are not going to lay down just because they are not going back to the playoffs after making it to the Super Bowl last year. That could make it very hard for the Falcons to get a much-needed win.

Matt Ryan threw for over 500 yards earlier this season against Carolina but may find it harder to do again if Julio Jones doesn’t play. The stud wide receiver has been nursing a toe injury, and it is unclear if he’ll play this week. Ryan has connected well with a few other receivers with Jones out, but it sure would be nice if he had his superstar back for such a big game.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Falcons utilize Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman a little more in the passing game (if Jones doesn’t play).

Carolina is playing better than it was the first time these guys played, but it will be interesting to see if Cam Newton’s shoulder is still sore how much abuse Ron Rivera will let him absorb in a meaningless game. As long as Atlanta doesn’t sprint out to a big lead, look for the Panthers to try and control the clock with their running game.

But the Falcons are on a mission this time. Look for Atlanta to win by seven.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Oakland Raiders (-4.5), Saturday, December 24 at 4:05 PM

This one could get a little interesting if the Colts can bring their “A” game. They did last week against the Minnesota Vikings and made one of the best defenses in the NFL look a college scout team.

Oakland’s defense has not played as well as expected coming into the season, but the unit has been stepping it up in recent weeks. Khalil Mack has been on a tear with ten sacks in the Raiders last nine games, and the Colts makeshift offensive line will have a hard time stopping him.

However, if the Colts can put some pressure on Derek Carr, they might have a chance. He hasn’t been the same since injuring his finger, and if they can hurry him—and maybe even remind him how much his finger hurts—the Colts might be able to pull off the upset of the year.

But with how bad the Colts have played this year, it is hard to imagine the offense clicking for two consecutive weeks (since it hasn’t yet). Raiders easily cover the spread in this one.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints (-3), Saturday, December 24 at 4:25 PM

After the way the Tampa Bay defense manhandled the Saints a couple of weeks ago, it is a little surprising to see the Saints favored in this one. Tampa Bay is still playing for the playoffs and is in control of their own destiny thanks to the Redskins losing Monday night.

Drew Brees did get the Saints offense back on track with a big game against the Arizona Cardinals (389 yards, four touchdowns). After getting embarrassed against the Buccaneers the last time they played, it is not hard to imagine Brees wanting to have a big day—but can he beat the Buccaneers defense this time?

The more significant question may be whether Jameis Winston can recover from the terrible game he had against the Cowboys (48.6 completion percentage, four turnovers). Winston didn’t have a great game against the Saints last time (16-26 for 184 yards), but he didn’t make any mistakes and got a fantastic game out of his defense.

Tampa Bay has a lot to play for, but the Saints have a knack for playing spoiler. Drew Brees will not be embarrassed again, and the Buccaneers haven’t responded well after bad games. New Orleans wins this one by seven.

Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks (-8), Saturday, December 24 at 4:25 PM

Via @NFLSeahawksNews

Via @NFLSeahawksNews

This is a difficult one to call due to the unpredictable nature of both teams this season. Arizona has had games where the offense clicked and put up some serious points, but has also had games where it struggled to get a first down.

Seattle has been the same way. Two weeks ago, Russell Wilson threw five interceptions, and the team scored 10-points. Last week, against a very tough Rams defense, Wilson threw three touchdowns passes, and the team scored 24.

So—what’s going to decide the game? Defense and running. The defense that makes the first few big plays will open the door for the offense. If the running game can run through it, the advantage will go to that team.

Thomas Rawls has been unreliable on the field this season while Johnson has been a beast. Look for Arizona to run him early and often, force Seattle to commit their safeties to stopping him, and for Carson Palmer to find Larry Fitzgerald and J.J. Nelson downfield.

Seattle will struggle to get their run game going, but the Seahawks have enough weapons in the passing game to win—but don’t expect them to cover the spread.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Los Angeles Rams (-3.5), Saturday, December 24 at 4:25 PM

If the spread doesn’t tell you where the San Francisco 49ers are as a team, nothing will. As bad as the 49ers are this season, surely they can handle the lowly Rams and their rookie quarterback—right? Probably—but the Rams are going to limit how much they’ll need Goff to do to keep him from making a costly mistake.

The offense may be bad, but the defense is still as tough as they come and will not let Carlos Hyde or Colin Kaepernick do much at all. Kaepernick will probably break one or two big plays, but the Rams defense will not let him do much damage.

If only the same could be said about the 49ers defense and Todd Gurley. Gurley’s fantasy owners are not happy with the season he’s had, but if anyone playing for their league championship this weekend has him on their roster—he might win the game for you.

Los Angeles is going to pound the pathetic 49ers defense into submission—and win by seven (yes, the 49ers are that bad). About the only thing that makes this one interesting is the possibility that Colin Kaepernick could get benched for Christian Ponder and Jared Goff could see the bench for Sean Mannion.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans (-3), Saturday, December 24 at 8:25 PM

Fans of the Houston Texans got an early Christmas present last week from head coach Bill O’Brien when he benched Brock Osweiler. Then he gave them another one on Monday when he announced that Tom Savage would be starting this week against the Cincinnati Bengals. But will fans get another one on Christmas Eve in the form of a win?

Popular opinion seems to think the chances are good with Savage at quarterback since he opens the passing game up in a way Osweiler was incapable of doing. Combine a decent running game with Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue, and Akeem Hunt and the Texans offense is suddenly something that defenses are going to have to be concerned about.

Cincinnati’s defense isn’t great this season (N0. 21 overall). They’ve done okay against the pass (No. 13), but not so good against the run (No. 26). However, they have been a little stingy when it comes to points (No. 11; 20.9 points/game).

It’s hard to say whether the Bengals will be able to control the Houston offense since we haven’t seen the Texans play much with Tom Savage. But the Texans offense is not going to decide the game anyway. Cincinnati’s offense will—or to be more precise–wide receiver A.J. Green.

The Bengals offense has not been the same without Green, but the team has talked like they expect him to play this week. However, while he would give the offense a boost and make it much harder for the Texans to defend, it would be foolish for him to play.

If he does return, it would be considered early considering the injury he had. But with the team eliminated from playoff contention, there is no need for the team to take any risks with Green’s health.

This will probably be a better game than people think, but in the end, Houston will win by four.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (-5.5), Sunday, December 25 at 4:30 PM

Pittsburgh will be the popular choice for this game because of their star power, and when the star power is on—they are unbeatable. The problem is, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell have not been “on” during the same game for weeks.

But despite their offensive struggles—especially Roethlisberger throwing picks—the team is on a five-game winning streak.

That is due in large part to Le’Veon Bell who has accounted for over 100 total yards from scrimmage in each of the five games. With how Roethlisberger has been playing lately, stop Bell, and there is a good chance you beat the Stealers—and it just so happens the Ravens are one of the best at stuffing the run!

Last time, the Ravens defense held Bell to 32 yards rushing (70 from scrimmage). If they want to win Saturday, they will have to do it again. Can they? Absolutely, but will Roethlisberger make up for it by getting back to his gunslinging ways?

Probably not. It’s hard to see someone who couldn’t light up the Colts or Browns doing much against a defense as good as the Ravens. Baltimore’s defense will win this one as long as Flacco doesn’t make too many mistakes.

Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs (-5.5), Sunday, December 25 at 8:30 PM

Via xnsports.com

Via xnsports.com

Rivalry games are always fun, but anyone that watched the Broncos play the Titans last week will not be holding their breath waiting for this one to be competitive. It wasn’t a bad game the first time, but the Broncos have managed to go from being bad at running the ball to terrible.

This, of course, allows defenses to focus on shutting down Trevor Siemian. Last time he blew the Chiefs up for 368 yards and three touchdown passes, but with no run game to take some pressure off of him, Siemian will be lucky to get 200 yards.

Defense ruled the day the last time these two met, and it took a big play on special teams by Tyreek Hill to open the game up. It wouldn’t be surprising if that was the case again. But without any sort of running game, the Broncos don’t stand a chance.

The Chiefs will easily cover the spread.

Detroit Lions vs. Dallas Cowboys (-7), Monday, December 26 at 8:30 PM

Some people are going to point to the Lions 9-5 record and say they have a shot against the Dallas Cowboys—but they don’t. They simply don’t have enough offense to challenge the Cowboys. Maybe, if Stafford wasn’t battling a hand injury, he could give the Cowboys a run for their money. But with no run game to take pressure off him, the Dallas pass rush is going to be having a party in the Lions backfield.

Detroit’s defense is not terrible (14th overall). It will be good enough to slow the Cowboys down in the first half, but in the end, Ezekiel Elliot is going to be way too much for the Lions. Dallas wins this one by 14 with Prescott sitting out the fourth quarter.

Yes, that will mean Tony Romo doing mop-up duty.

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